Tag Archives: book recommendation

Themed Third Thursday: Dolls and Toyland

Yes, yes, I know the real phrase. However, I mean to say that this post is all about dolls and toys with lives of their own! One of my best-loved books as an elementary reader was When the Dolls Woke. It was a little scary, but not Wait Till Helen Comes scary, so that was good for me. These books aren’t like that–well, these books aren’t all like that! Some are silly or sweet, some are thought-provoking, and some are a little bit creepy. Or a lot creepy. Take your pick!

[Dolls and Toyland book list (alphabetical order by author, suggested interest levels included)]

Corduroy, by Don FreemanCorduroy, by Don Freeman (1968, preschool to early elementary): Corduroy is a toy on the shelf in a big department store, and he has been overlooked for a long time. When a little girl asks to get him and her mother says no because he’s missing a button, Corduroy decides to go in search of his missing button after the store closes for the night. He makes discoveries along the way (“Could this be a mountain?” [on the escalator] “I think I’ve always wanted to climb a mountain!”), but when he pulls a button off a mattress, he knocks over a lamp and gets the attention of the night guard who brings him back downstairs to the toy shop (not realizing Corduroy is the one who made the noise). The next morning, the little girl, Lisa, returns and buys Corduroy with her own money, and she brings him home to her bedroom. When she sews on a new button because she thinks he’ll be more comfortable that way, Corduroy says that he has always wanted a friend, and Lisa responds as though she has heard him speak aloud and gives him a hug.

The Lonely Doll, The Lonely Dollstory and photographs by Dare Wright (1957, preschool to early elementary): This is not the earliest example of a living doll story I found, but it is unique in that it is a picture book illustrated with photographs of posed toys and with no toy owners a part of the story at all. (They are half-implied in that the doll tries on adult-sized high heels and puts on lipstick she finds, but the doll is lonely and has no one to play with until Mr. Bear and Little Bear show up at her door one day, so it seems as though there is no child at least–and no worries about being caught by any human.) Some of the contents haven’t aged particularly well, but it is the kind of story a modern child could use as a mentor text to create his or her own photograph-illustrated story about what toys do when they’re alone.

Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator!, by Mo WillemsHooray for Amanda and her Alligator!, words and pictures by Mo Willems (2011, preschool to early elementary): Amanda’s alligator doesn’t like waiting for Amanda to get home when she leaves him. He frets and fusses and hopes she’ll bring him a surprise. Like most Mo Willems books, this one has a lot of silliness and a bit of the unexpected. The alligator seems to be fully living, and the stuffed panda at the end is as well (although she doesn’t look like it when she first arrives). The alligator is kind of suspicious of the panda at first, jealous of her newness and not-sale-bin qualities (the alligator was on clearance), but when they are both left behind, the panda reveals she is not good at waiting either, and they enjoy each other’s company doing all the silly things the alligator is always waiting and wanting to do with Amanda but doesn’t always get the chance.

Babushka’s Doll, by Patricia PolaccoBabushka's Doll, by Patricia Polacco (1990, early elementary): Natasha isn’t a naughty little girl, exactly, but she is rather pushy and demanding. If she wants something from her grandmother, she wants it now, and she doesn’t see why Babushka won’t drop everything she’s doing to do it. Babushka decides it is time for Natasha to play with her old doll, the doll she played with just once, and leaves Natasha with the doll while she goes to get groceries. As soon as Babushka leaves, the doll comes to life and starts giving poor Natasha a taste of her own medicine. At first, Natasha is thrilled to play with a living doll, but she is soon worn out by the persistence and insistence of the little doll. By the time Babushka returns, Natasha is exhausted to the point of tears, and insists once was enough to play with the doll. When Babushka puts the doll away again, the doll winks at her before becoming just a doll again, and Babushka’s mission is complete.

The Velveteen RabbitThe Velveteen Rabbit, by Marjery Williams, illustrated by William Nicholson (1958, early elementary): Because of this story, I spent a good portion of my childhood afraid that my parents were going to torch all my belongings every time I got sick! (I had an over-active imagination and a whole lot of hypochondria…) In it, a simple stuffed rabbit longs to become Real: “Real isn’t how you are made. It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” When the boy loses his usual sleeping companion toy, his nurse gives him his old rabbit, and soon they are inseparable, and the velveteen rabbit becomes what he knows as Real. On one excursion, the velveteen rabbit meets two living rabbits, and they want him to play, but he can’t. Now, however, he dearly wants to do the things they talk about doing–play and hop and dance–but he is content to stay with the boy who loves him. When the boy becomes sick with scarlet fever, the velveteen rabbit is there to comfort and encourage him, but once he recovers, the doctor orders that all the toys and books must be burned to get rid of the germs, so the rabbit is put out with the other rubbish. He mourns the unfairness of becoming Real only to end up in this situation, and a tear falls to the ground. From it grows a blossom, and from the blossom comes a fairy–the nursery magic fairy. She tells him that her job is to take the toys that have been loved and make them Real, really Real to everyone, not just the child who loves them, and she takes the velveteen rabbit to the forest to be Real. He meets the boy again in the spring while he is with the other rabbits, and while the boy is reminded of his old, beloved bunny, he never realizes that is really the rabbit he is seeing.

Toys Go Out: Being the Adventures Toys Go Outof a Knowledgeable Stingray, a Toughy Little Buffalo, and Someone Called Plastic, by Emily Jenkins, pictures by Paul O. Zelinsky (2006, elementary): GirlChild found this amusing–her favorite character is Plastic, a rubber ball–but I think that the audience range is pretty wide, particularly if it is used as a read-aloud to a younger group (who might not realize how funny melodramatic StingRay is or how practical under-appreciated Plastic is) and for independent chuckles for older readers. The toys interact with one another and with other household objects (the bathroom towels, the washer and dryer), and their peculiar worldview makes even the most ordinary event extraordinary! GirlChild also read the sequels, Toys Come Home and Toy Dance Party, on the plane and in the car when we were on vacation.

The Doll PeopleThe Doll People, by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin, pictures by Brian Selznick (2000, elementary): Annabelle, a 100-year-old 8-year-old china doll, is more restless than usual ever since stumbling upon her missing Auntie Sarah’s hidden journal. Gone for almost half a century, Auntie Sarah recorded things that she never could have seen from inside the dollhouse, and Annabelle starts to have questions–questions the adults in the house don’t really want to answer. When a new doll family moves into the human house (a gift for the younger daughter to keep her from rough-housing with the antique dolls her older sister owns), their carefree, modern ways are just the incentive Annabelle needs to spur her to action (with the help of Tiffany, her plastic counterpart in the other family). The rest of her family is more reluctant, but it’s going to take more than just the two girls to save Auntie Sarah from being lost forever! The endpapers mimic the different ads that would have been contemporary for each dollhouse purchase, highlighting the differences between the two doll families. The first of several in a series.

The Very Little Princess, The Very Little Princess, by Marion Dane Bauerby Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Elizabeth Sayles (2010, elementary): This was not the cute, silly story I expected from the cover and jacket description. That’s not entirely fair–it was that, but it was also a very heart-wrenching story of abandonment and loneliness. (I probably should have expected something sad; this is the author of the most traumatizing Newbery Honor novel of my childhood, On My Honor.) Zoey’s mother unexpectedly tells her to pack to visit her grandmother, a grandmother she never knew she had. They drive for hours before they reach the country home where her mother grew up, and Zoey is greeted at the door by a woman who looks much like her own mother but older. While her mother and grandmother argue downstairs, Zoey escapes to the upper floor of the house and finds her mother’s old room and old dollhouse. A tear–whether of excitement over the doll or from the stress of the argument downstairs–falls onto the doll from the house, and she wakes, startling Zoey. This doll turns out to be Princess Regina, and she considers Zoey her personal servant. Zoey is happy to play along–she’s played this game before with her mother, and she’s eager to avoid the conflict downstairs–but the doll keeps losing her ability to speak and move when she’s left alone too long. While the doll is incapacitated and Zoey is unable to get her to come back, Zoey’s mother leaves, leaving Zoey behind indefinitely, because she “needs to be alone,” and Zoey is heartbroken, weeping on the doll in her sleep. Princess Regina wakes up and fully realizes that Zoey’s tears are what gives her life, so she tries to make her cry more, but in so doing, she comes to understand the deep hurt that makes Zoey cry, and her first feelings of empathy make her cry instead, and she becomes really and permanently real. She, Zoey, and Zoey’s grandmother then work through their fears and pain by taking one day at a time with whatever comes. (I’ve not read it yet, but there is another of these books that is about Zoey’s mother, Rose, and the doll.)

When the Dolls Woke 001When the Dolls Woke, by Marjorie Filley Stover (1985, middle to upper elementary): You might very well have a hard time finding this title for sale anywhere, and I’m not going to claim that it is a literary masterpiece–only that I loved it as a child (and still have my old copy)! Gail, a shy fourth-grade girl who has just started at a new school, is sent an old dollhouse by her Great Aunt Abigail whose Aunt Melissa had received it as a gift from her sea-faring brother, Abigail’s father. Gail is thrilled until she sees that it has fallen into disrepair, that the doll clothes are shabby and their hair unkempt, and her mother tells her that she just doesn’t have time to help fix it up right then. Soon after the dollhouse arrives, however, Great Aunt Abigail follows for a visit, and she gladly works with Gail to refurbish the house. Sir Gregory, Lady Alice, Maribelle, and Tommy are the dollhouse family, and they have a Dutch ragdoll maid, Becky, who replaced the wooden doll, Martinique, who made the other dolls uncomfortable with the tales of voodoo from her homeland. The family, recently woken from a long sleep in storage, believes that Gail has the gift of being able to “hear” them–get an understanding of their thoughts–when they wish hard enough, just like her great grandmother (the one who stashed Martinique away in anger) and Great Aunt Abigail before her. And when they discover that their beloved Abigail is in dire straits, they work to communicate the secret of the dollhouse…a secret only Sir Gregory knew and is just beginning to remember again. (Rereading it as an adult, I really don’t know why I felt it was even a little scary–maybe just Martinique’s voodoo attempts and the fact that she makes the other dolls nervous? It really isn’t frightening at all, and things work out for Martinique!)

The Indian in the Cupboard, Indian in the Cupboard, by Lynne Reid Banksby Lynne Reid Banks (1980, middle to upper elementary): Set in England in the 1970s, the story begins when Omri receives both a plastic Indian and an old medicine cabinet cupboard for his birthday. His mother gives him an old key that fits the lock, and he puts his toy inside and locks it. When he wakes in the morning, he finds that the plastic toy has come to life. His original excitement over having the ability to bring toys to life dims as he realizes the gravity of having such responsibility for the tiny life, particularly when he realizes that “his” Indian, Little Bear, is a real person from history–an Iroquois from the time of the French and Indian War–who has somehow been brought forward in time as a miniature and deserves respect. His friend Patrick doesn’t quite grasp the seriousness of the situation and, against Omri’s instructions, brings a cowboy to life using the cupboard and key, creating additional chaos. Eventually, the mutual respect between Omri and Little Bear allows him to do the hardest thing–send his new friend back to his own time and place. (There is a little bit of language in the book, and, like many older books, some stereotypical depictions. I feel like Omri’s respect for Little Bear and life in general is a strong positive, however.)

House of Dolls, by Francesca Lia BlockHouse of Dolls, by Francesca Lia Block (2010, upper elementary to middle school): The dolls in Madison Blackberry’s dollhouse have an idyllic life. Wildflower (a very old doll that had belonged to Madison’s grandmother) has Guy (apparently an army figure), Rockstar has B. Friend (a studious stuffed bear), and Miss Selene (a fairy doll) has a vast and elaborate wardrobe she shares, and they all have each other. Madison envies them. She envies their finery, their companionship, and their happiness. Her grandmother shakes her head at her for her moods, but she doesn’t engage with her. Her father travels the world for work, her mother is a socialite, and her little brother gets all the family attention, so friendless Madison takes out her frustration on the dolls, taking first their boyfriends, then their clothing, away from them. Miss Selene is hit particularly hard because she had always used the clothing to distract her from something else she had lost long ago. Wildflower decides to communicate with Madison’s grandmother to try to get her to show love to Madison like her own mother had shown love to her before she died. When Madison’s grandmother shares her pictures of her mother with Madison and makes Madison a beautiful dress to rival any that the dolls had ever received, Madison loses her resentment and returns the lost companions and clothing to the dolls. The rest of her family somehow seems to feel the need to show love again, too, and things start to look up for them all. This seems to be a simple book, but it isn’t simple to explain. The brevity competes with the seriousness and complexity of the subject matter, and it is clearly much more than a story about dolls.

The Dollhouse Murders, The Dollhouse Murders, by Betty Ren Wrightby Betty Ren Wright (1983, upper elementary to middle school): I think I’d consider this one Wait ’til Helen Comes scary. (I should not have started it late at night!) There are some definitely dated things in this book (rugby shirts, cassette tapes, and a complete lack of cell phones), but the use of the word “retarded” in the jacket description is what really threw me for a loop. It was used to describe Louann, the younger sister of the main character, Amy, but the phrases “like a little kid” and “brain-damaged” were the only terms actually used inside the book, if I recall correctly. There are two intertwined story lines in this book: almost-thirteen-year-old Amy being pushed to the brink by her mother’s expectations of her in regards to her sister and a decades-old family murder mystery that is being played out in the replica dollhouse in her great-grandparents’ former home. If you have an easily spooked reader, I’d avoid this one (particularly if there’s a dollhouse in the house…), but older readers looking for a not-too-graphically-gory spine-tingler might be interested. I’d recommend you read it yourself first, but, again, I wouldn’t recommend a late-night reading unless you’re braver than I am!

Hitty: Her First Hundred YearsHitty: Her First Hundred Years, by Rachel Field, illustrated by Dorothy P. Lathrop (1929, upper elementary to middle school): Hitty is a wooden doll, skillfully whittled by a peddler who stays the winter with the Preble family of Maine while Captain Preble is out at sea, and the story is told in first person from her point-of-view. (Calculating from the time the book was written, this is likely to have been set in the first half the the 19th century, probably in the 1820s. The date is only mentioned once, near the end of the book, but current events such as wars are mentioned often enough to get a vague sense of the 100-year chronology as the book progresses.) She appears to have limited mobility, and she only is mentioned to use it a few times during the book. (She interprets the other dolls she encounters as being either too rude or too self-absorbed to interact with her, but I got the impression that she was actually the only doll with any life in the book.) When Mrs. Preble and Phoebe join Captain Preble on his next voyage, Hitty begins her worldwide travels and adventures. Through the travels of the doll, the reader experiences life on a whaling vessel, tribal conflict on a tropical island, snake charmers and missionaries in India, higher society in Philadelphia, simple Quaker life, upperclass New York, meeting several artists, musicians, and writers of the time (some of whom appear to be fictional, some real historical people), a Rhode Island mill town, Mardi Gras, a Cotton Exposition, a cargo boat on the Mississippi, a black country family, a railroad station, a home with a vast doll collection, and eventually an antique shop. It really is true that older books have more complex language, and that is part of what makes this Newbery Medal-winning book an upper elementary or middle school title. The other big thing is the need to thoughtfully interpret the events and portrayals of different people in a different era and realize how attitudes of the time might color the way the author characterizes the people Hitty encounters; some of the portrayals are pretty offensive, actually, despite the fact that Hitty is a mostly impartial observer who admirably considers different points-of-view and lifestyles as she changes hands. Could be used in conjunction with a history class on the time between the War of 1812 and the end of World War I.

Doll Bones, Doll Bones, by Holly Blackby Holly Black, with illustrations by Eliza Wheeler (middle school): The illustrations creeped me out more than the contents did, despite their extensive creepiness–I had to store this book cover down! Middle school friends Poppy, Zach, and Alice have an elaborate game they play together with their dolls and action figures. Zach, who has just discovered a skill for basketball and whose deadbeat father has recently returned to his life, is afraid that Poppy’s brothers will reveal his secret to someone he knows and make his life rougher than his father is already making it, but he is devastated when his dad throws his bag of action figures away while he is at school because he feels Zach’s too old for that kind of play. Desperate to hide what happened from Poppy and Alice, Zach lies and tells them he just doesn’t want to play anymore, and Poppy tries to lure him back in by promising to get the Great Queen (the creepy bone china doll her mother keeps locked in a glass cabinet) out to add more excitement to their play. This, however, sets a series of events in motion that involves horrific dreams about a little girl, a middle-of-the-night trek across the state on a quest Poppy insists is the doll’s demand, and a variety of really, really creepy events. (I am seriously getting goosebumps all over while writing this despite having finished the book itself weeks ago!) Definitely not for the faint of heart, there are layers and layers of story in this book, from the doll’s origins to the current struggles of each of the main characters. While you try not to toss the book away in horror, you’ll struggle not to really feel for the kids in the book (even if you’re still a kid yourself)! Again, depending on your kid, you might want to preview to make sure this “don’t try this at home” book doesn’t inspire behaviors you don’t want your child copying (like taking a midnight train out of town without permission). This book received a Newbery Honor in 2014.

There are, I am sure, many more books in this category–Winnie-the-Pooh, for example! If you have a favorite living toys title you or your children have read, share the title in the comments!



Filed under review, teaching suggestion, theme

Themed Third Thursday: Book Lists Edition

A lot of the boards I follow on Pinterest are, understandably, education and children’s literature related. I have found a virtual fountain of excellent books lists, and since I’m not too proud to accept that other people have good ideas about books (jealous, yes; too proud, no), I’m going to feature a few of those websites that I’ve found (mostly through Pinterest) that feature good book lists or reviews. You know, other than this one! ūüėČ Since we’re still in the process of getting ourselves settled in our new home right now, I’ll let other people do the heavy lifting of giving you a ton of good book ideas this month!

No Time for Flash Cards: This blog has four contributing writers who each have their own blogs or other blogs for which they write as well. Although I’m sure all their other categories are great (and you can browse by age or search the other tabs), what I’ve seen most of on Pinterest are their book lists…tons and tons of book lists! They have author showcases and themes from which to choose. This blog is a treasure trove for unit studies, story time planning, feeding kids’ obsessions, and teachable moments! An excellent source for parents and teachers.

best books for elementary kidsFeels Like Home Blog: While this blog has a lot of other topics, I found this book list recently and loved it (having loved almost all of the books listed either as a child or adult!). There’s no perfect way to find her other book lists (although there are quite a few), but you can search “books” in the Ligit Search box in the left sidebar of the blog to find her posts that are tagged as being about books. In addition to this list of 101 chapter books for kids, there is a list of 101 picture books, big sister books, and more. Another good resource, despite being a little harder to browse.

Read aloud chapter books for preschoolers and 3 year olds

What Do We Do All Day?: This blogger has a series of book lists for kids posted every Monday, and this particular list–50+ Chapter Books for Preschoolers and 3 Year Olds–caught my eye. It’s all about read-alouds that are age and attention appropriate, and teachers adore the parents who have taught their children the valuable skill of listening to books! ūüėČ I haven’t done enough long book reading to GirlChild (mostly because BoyChild spends our reading time crawling around on my head and the book, so focus is an issue), so I hope all the shorter books we’ve read will still benefit her perseverance in the listening category when she starts school! Here’s where you’ll find the rest of the lists–definitely worth exploring!

A Mighty Girl

A Mighty Girl: A Mighty Girl is a blog with the tagline: “The world’s largest collection of books, toys and movies for smart, confident, and courageous girls.” Since my family term, “spunky heroine,” doesn’t translate well in the UK, I think “mighty girl” is a good term! ūüėČ (I actually did a class project on this theme when I was in library school, albeit for YA readers only, but I’ve lost track of the web address of our list! So sad! And so glad to find this list!) I love, love, love reading aloud to kids (my mom always did when we were growing up, and as a teacher, mom, and librarian-in-waiting, I get a lot of practice!), and this list is a great start for parents and teachers who want to build up the mightiness in their girls. The books in the Top Read Aloud Books Starring Mighty Girls list represent a wide variety of different kinds of girls showing different kinds of strength from different eras and different genres and for different ages. (There are filters in the lefthand sidebar to help narrow down your choices–this is a long list!) I know I read many of these books independently as well, but it’s sometimes easier to get a child into a good, long book if you share it with her! The books tab has more recommendations for browsing (over 1,500!) by category or by using filters to find the right book, and it includes both fiction and nonfiction.

So, that covers the blogs I found on my All About the Books board on Pinterest with the lists I found the most helpful. If you have any suggestions for great book lists, leave a comment! I’m happy to crowdsource this topic during this busy, busy month!

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Filed under online resources, reader input sought, theme

Themed Third Thursday: Give the Gift of Books

I know that I have forgotten many of the books that I loved as a child, and I’ve even forgotten what books GirlChild loved when she was a baby (until I happen to pull one out for BoyChild and find that he has the same fascination!), and I’m still working on being up on all the newest books for kids. For baby showers, I almost always get Dr. Seuss’s ABC (sometimes in both original and board book editions since the board book is different!) because that is one book I do remember loving! So for this latest Themed Third Thursday, I asked my friends and the Internet what books or authors children in different age groups might love. Here are some of the suggestions! (Links in green are links to my previous blog posts about that suggestion (which also have links to Amazon); regular links link to Amazon or Barnes & Noble).

Birth to Toddler:

The most important thing to remember is durability; always go for a board book if you can!

Preschool to Kindergarten:

  • Topsy and Tim series, by Jean and Gareth Adamson–These first experience books are perfect for the three to five year old range, and the fact that they’re published in the UK means that there are some fun cultural and vocabulary differences that you can discuss!
  • Ladybug Girl, by David Sonam and Jacky Davis–Ladybug Girl and the rest of the Bug Squad love their imaginary adventures, and so does GirlChild! The Amazing Adventures of Bumblebee Boy is another personal favorite from these authors, but all the books in the series are fun!
  • The Berenstain Bears series, by Stan and Jan (and Mike!) Berenstain–I loved these as a child, and any book in this series is a favorite to ask Grandma to read for all the cousins (ages 2-7!) right now!
  • anything by Mo Willems–Some favorites mentioned were Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and other Pigeon stories, Knuffle Bunny, and the Elephant & Piggie books (there are tons!). The Pigeon and Elephant & Piggie stories are great for beginning readers, and they’re all fun for read-alouds!
  • Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson series–Mercy Watson is a pig. ūüôā Written as a chapter book, each “chapter” is about three pages long, and at least one of those pages is a full-color illustration. Short chapters and short sentences make this good for beginning readers, but it is a fun read-aloud for younger children, too.
  • anything by Jan Brett–She has many books about Christmas and winter that are seasonally appropriate!
  • A Is for Angry: An Animal and Adjective Alphabet, by Sandra Boynton–This is a perfect age to teach a range of adjectives for emotions! (I know I get tired of everything being “mad” or “sad” all the time!)
  • the Llama Llama books by Anna Dewdney–Our family favorites are Llama Llama Mad at Mama and Llama Llama Red Pajama, but there’s even a Llama Llama Holiday Drama one!

Primary Grades/Early Readers:

  • the Skippyjon Jones series, by Judy Schachner–I find these books strange. Small children find them hilarious. So whose opinion matters here, anyway? ūüėČ Skippyjon Jones is a big-eared Siamese kitten who thinks he’s a Chihuahua, and he has all sorts of wacky daydreams/adventures. The favorite mentioned for a first-grade boy was Skippyjon Jones in the Doghouse.
  • Fluffy the Classroom Guinea Pig series, by Kate McMullan, illustrated by Mavis Smith–A parent and former first grade teacher says these are highly popular amongst that age group! Some titles include Fluffy Goes to School, Fluffy Goes Apple Picking, and Fluffy Meets the Tooth Fairy.
  • Junie B. Jones series, by Barbara Park–Some adults really, really can’t stand Junie B. and her grammatical issues. I admit that, as a teacher, she would have driven me bananas, but kids (even slightly older kids!) love to read about her craziness (and possibly live vicariously through her because even GirlChild is properly horrified by some of her behavior). I used Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business as a read-aloud to let my third-graders know I was expecting, and Junie B., First Grader: Jingle Bells, Batman Smells! (P.S. So Does May!) is a seasonal favorite!
  • I Can Read It All By Myself Beginner Books (you’ll recognize the Cat in the Hat logo), especially the ones by Dr. Seuss/Theo. LeSieg like I’m Not Going to Get Up Today and Wacky Wednesday. Dr. Seuss’s My Book About Me (a book for the child to complete with facts about him/herself) is another good Dr. Seuss title for this age!

Middle Elementary/Confident Readers:

  • Little House on the Prairie series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder–Based on the author’s experiences growing up in the American prairie, these books are a great way to get children into historical fiction!
  • The Boxcar Children series, by Gertrude Chandler Warner–I loved the first book of this series when my mom read it to us ages and ages ago, and the rest of the series has been a favorite in my classroom library in both third and fifth grades!
  • the Ramona Quimby books, by Beverly Cleary–I can’t believe I had forgotten these books! My mom read them all to us ages ago (she read out loud to us a lot!), but I still remember so many of the names (Who can forget Beezus, Howie, and Chevrolet?) and events (like Ramona’s dad losing his job) because these books and characters were so real to me! Ramona even inspired me to wear my pajamas under my clothes to school one day, although I still don’t know why I thought that was such a bright idea when it turned out so poorly for Ramona… ūüôā
  • the Fudge books, by Judy Blume–Writing about the Ramona books reminded me of the Fudge books, starting with Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. While the first book focuses on older brother Peter, most of the rest of the series brings Fudge into the limelight. (NOTE: For those of you who remember these books from your childhood, be warned that reviewers on Amazon have noted that these are updated editions that change some of the clues that this book was written in a different era (one with record players and the like). These may not be the exact books you remember.)

Upper Elementary/Middle School:

  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, by Jeff Kinney–These highly popular faux journals are right up a middle-school boy’s alley. (I can’t be held responsible for what middle-school boys find funny!) They spawned a plentitude of copycat works, but these are the originals!
  • the Alex Rider series, by Anthony Horowitz–There are nine books in this British series featuring Alex Rider, a teenager who is drawn into the spy world after his undercover uncle dies mysteriously. Fans of action/adventure stories will enjoy this series.
  • Holes, by Louis Sacher–The Wayside School stories were personal favorites growing up, and while this book maintains much of the quirk of Sacher’s previous works, it is definitely a big step up. Important details that at first seem insignificant are sprinkled throughout, and there is a depth here that the Wayside stories certainly didn’t have–which might be why it won a Newbery in 1999. A great book for fifth grade and up!
  • The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, by Patricia C. Wrede–Called a “wickedly funny fantasy series,” these books did fractured fairy tales before Shrek made them mainstream. Cimorene is a princess who doesn’t want to be princessy…so she volunteers to be a dragon’s princess, and it’s the best choice she could have made for everyone involved. Hilarious for any fan of fun fantasy!
  • anything by Gary Paulsen–The ultimate survival storyteller for teens, Gary Paulsen was actually quite the outdoorsman/adventurer himself. His experiences and knowledge inform books like Hatchet and Tracker. Paulsen’s books are necessarily somewhat gritty due to the survival themes usually present, so keep that in mind if your reader is sensitive to that sort of thing.
  • Artemis Fowl series, by Eoin Colfer–Artemis Fowl, a billionaire, evil genius, Irish teenager, is the star of this series that is a wonderful mash-up of action/adventure, spy novel, science fiction, and fantasy–really speculative fiction!

This is by far not a comprehensive list, and I’m sure I left out plenty of absolutely great authors and titles that any child would swoon over–let me (and anyone looking for a good gift or just a good read!) know in the comments what I’ve missed!

(Also see my Christmas Wrap-Up post from last year featuring full reviews of twelve Christmas-themed books and a list of a good number more!)

(UPDATE: Introducing Paper Gains: A Guide to Gifting Children Great Books from Modern Mrs Darcy–posted by Modern Mrs Darcy and shared on Money Saving Mom, this (downloadable, free) list of books overlaps my list a good bit, but it has more ideas as well! I don’t necessarily agree with all the age levels, but the list is pretty good and worth checking out!)


Filed under reader input sought, recommendation, theme

Wonder, by R.J. Palacio

I picked this book up because I saw it as a recommendation when I was researching another book and it happened to be on the new books display at my library this week. I’m glad I did.


Wonder, by R.J. Palacio (2012, Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 978-0-375-86902-0)

This isn’t a review so much as a book recommendation. I can’t say I’m an expert in the topic (a ten-year-old boy born with “mandibulofacial dysostosis…complicated by a hemifacial microsomia” (both of which involve visibly severe structural problems of the face) attends school for the first time after being homeschooled through fourth grade due to frequent surgeries and illnesses as a result of his congenital problems), but as a parent and a former fifth grade teacher, this book struck me as an important read for upper elementary students. It’s both funny and heartbreaking as Auggie, his older sister, and a selection of their friends and classmates pick up narration (often overlapping part of what the previous narrator discussed) of Auggie’s fifth grade year at Beecher Prep and his struggles to find his way to be ordinary in a world where no one else seems to be able to see him that way. The subject matter, although heavy, is dealt with–in my mind, at least–delicately yet authentically. I read it way too fast, so I know I probably missed a lot of the nuances, but there were several parts where I just had to put the book down and cry. So, yeah, despite not having the experiences necessary to be a real judge of whether this book is true-to-life (although the reviews I’ve read from people who should know say it is), I have to recommend it. I believe you won’t look at anyone quite the same way again.

(Please, if you’ve read the book and have something you feel needs to be said about it, comment below, especially if you’ve read it with your child or if you’re the parent of a child facing this kind of struggle. I’d love to hear what you think.)

UPDATE (August 28, 2012): A friend of mine (whose son was born with craniosynostosis that required surgery and a temporary helmet) posted about the Children’s Craniofacial Association‘s September 2012 “Craniofacial Acceptance Month” on her Facebook page. This site and the FACES: The National Craniofacial Association site share photographs and information about a variety of craniofacial disorders as well as ways people can help these organizations offer support to the families of children affected. If this book moved you, perhaps you might choose to support one of these associations as a way to reach out!

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Filed under online resources, reader input sought, recommendation

Themed Third Thursday: The Berenstains

Jan Berenstain passed away on February 24th at age 88, and when I read the news I was reminded once again of my childhood love of the Berenstain Bears. (Please don’t pronounce it “burn-steen” as I’ve so often heard–it’s “bear-en-stain”!) Little did I know as I scanned the book order pamphlets and book fair shelves that Stan and Jan Berenstain had been publishing books and cartoons since my mother was an infant (in 1951) and that they have been continuously publishing since then, with Jan and their younger son Mike (who joined the team by 1992) publishing the most recent Berenstain Bears story in January 2012! In 2004 publication was moved to HarperCollins, and, at Mike’s suggestion, they started a new sub-line of Berenstain Bears books (called Living Lights) which focuses on spiritual themes and is published by Zondervan. Stan passed away in 2005 before the first four books in this line were published in 2008. Their book credits range from coloring books to the traditional Berenstain Bears books to Berenstain Bears chapter books to parenting books and more!

The Big Honey Hunt, 50th Anniversary Edition (The Berenstain Bears)

The Big Honey Hunt (1962): Their first children’s book, this title was published by Dr. Seuss himself (as editor-in-chief of Beginner Books, a then-new division of Random House), without whose editing skill and influence we might not have ever gotten to know the Berenstain Bears. Papa Bear and Small (Brother) Bear go on an errand to get some honey.

'C' Is for Clown (Bright & Early Books)

“C” is for Clown (1972), rereleased as The [Berenstains’] C Book (1997): The third letter of the alphabet gets a lot of use in this book with alliteration to spare! (There is also The B Book (1971) and The A Book (1997).)

The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist (Berenstain Bears First Time Books (Prebound))

The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist (1981): I’m beginning to think that these books are the Topsy and Tim of America! (Still, again, with animal characters, and these are less basic.) This book is a part of the First Time Book series.

The Berenstain Bears Accept No SubstitutesThe Berenstain Bears Accept No Substitutes (1993): This book is in the Big Chapter Book series and takes place when Brother Bear and his classmates go a little too far in the pranks they pull on their substitute teacher.

The Berenstain Bears and Baby Makes Five

The Berenstain Bears and Baby Makes Five (2000): Honey (the only Berenstain Bear I didn’t realize existed prior to researching for this post!) joins the family, and Sister Bear isn’t too happy about it at first…but (as always) Mama Bear helps make things right.

The Berenstain Bears and the Easter Story (Berenstain Bears/Living Lights)The Berenstain Bears and the Easter Story (2012): This is the most recent book published, and it’s one of the Living Lights titles. Although the cubs are all wrapped up in the sweet trappings of Easter, their Sunday school teacher Miss Ursula manages to teach them about Jesus’ resurrection and the sweetness of salvation. It comes with stickers, too! (Can you guess what GirlChild’s getting in her Easter basket this year?)

Down a Sunny Dirt Road: An AutobiographyDown a Sunny Dirt Road: An Autobiography (2002): After browsing the website and discovering bits and pieces about this family, I am intrigued to give this book a try! This was published three years before Stan’s death.

So there you have it! This list has one book from each decade of the Berenstain Bears’ existence (plus a book about the authors, a real bonus!), and there are still MORE THAN THREE HUNDRED MORE BOOKS to explore! I’ve only scratched the surface of the titles and series-within-a-series available with this list, so get to your library and get reading!

(All information that is not opinion was gleaned from the Berenstain Bears official website or from the individual product descriptions on Amazon.com. Most of these books are available either new or used from Amazon, and many Berenstain Bears books are also available for Kindle!)


Filed under online resources, review, theme

Christmas Wrap-Up

(Ha! I see what I did there!)

In case you missed a day or just want to see all the Twelve Reviews of Christmas together to pick and choose, here’s the list!

12.  A Christmas Carol
11.  The Crippled Lamb
10.  The Christmas Story
9.  Merry Christmas, Mouse!
8.  The Secret Keeper
7.¬† Mousekin’s Christmas Eve
6.  Pippin the Christmas Pig
5.  A Houseful of Christmas
4.  My Merry Christmas: And the real reason for Christmas joy
3.  Countdown to Christmas
2.  Fisher-Price Little People: Christmastime Is Here!
1.  The Twelve Days of Christmas

There were some other great and/or interesting books that I didn’t get to share in the Twelve Reviews of Christmas–we spent a lot of time quarantined from the library in the last couple weeks because of sick children–but I wanted to toss out a few more ideas in case none of these hit the spot!

A Classic (and a classroom use guide):
The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson
(For elementary readers and good listeners!)The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

A (Really) Unique Take:
We Were There: A Nativity Story, by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Wendell Minor
(I couldn’t check this out to review because I shuddered violently just touching the illustrations when I was trying to turn the pages to preview it! Perfect for your little entomologist!)

In Case You Didn’t Realize:
An Early American Christmas
, by Tomie DePaola
(Did you realize that in early America, Christians celebrating Christmas was a bit out-of-the-ordinary?)

Funny Animal Christmas Stories:
Olivia Helps with Christmas, by Ian Falconer
(It’s Olivia. Some kids just need Olivia for every season!)

Santa Cows, by Cooper Edens, illustrated by Daniel Lane
(This book is–yes, I’m going to do it, for my dad!–udderly ridiculous. In the spirit of Twas the Night Before Christmas, but with cows. And kitsch.)

Hark! The Aardvark Angels Sing: A Story of Christmas Mail
, by Teri Sloat
(Aardvark angels help deliver mail to all the corners of the earth. Really.
Set to music.)

A Little Alphabetical Latin Flavor:

N is for Navidad, by Susan Middleton Elya and Merry Banks, illustrated by Joe Cepeda
(The Spanish alphabet–including those “extra” letters ch, ll, √Ī, and rr–is used to tell a story of the celebration of Christmastime in a Latino family. A pronunciation guide included for those who don’t speak Spanish!)

A Ballet in Book Form:

The Nutcracker, by Susan Jeffers
(A simple retelling of the traditional ballet with beautiful art by the illustrator of one of my favorite childhood books, All the Pretty Horses.)

A Favorite Christmas Villain:
The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, by Dr. Seuss
(Did you realize that there’s no mention of the Grinch being green in the book? Nor that he’s not any color at all in the illustrations? No? Time to break out the original instead of the movies, then!)

Hope you have a chance to make it to the library before Christmas (and that you find a few of these books on the shelf!). Have a very merry Christmas!
(Do you have any suggestions for great Christmas books I might not have included? Tell us in the comments!)


Filed under informational, reader input sought, review

I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie, by Alison Jackson, pictures by Judith Byron Schachner

I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie (Picture Puffins)

I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie, by Alison Jackson,
pictures by Judith Byron Schachner
(1997, Puffin Books, ISBN-10:0140565957, ISBN-13: 978-0140565959)

Not a review, just a last-minute recommendation if you happen by the library this afternoon before it’s closed for Thanksgiving and want a little light, seasonal reading for your kids! (Our storytime librarian read this last week.) This would be a great book to read before dinner to discourage the family from overindulging, and everyone from preschool age up through elementary school will find it amusing! (Don’t worry…as morbid as this old story can be, she doesn’t die in the end!)


Filed under recommendation